Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Fully-Adjustable, Transportable Glass Ceiling

It’s the ultimate catch-22, women are paid less than men, one way or the other.  The National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) “and liberal groups like the National Women’s Law Center and the National Partnership for Women & Families maintain that women make only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, and that the number has been stuck there for nearly ten years. At this rate, notes Sarah Crawford, Director of Workplace Fairness at the National Partnership for Women and Families, ‘We don’t expect the gap to close for four more decades.’”, April 9, 2013. By 2015, the number had moved up slightly to 79 cents.
With 57% of college grads being women, and even the fact that the professions are slowly being taken over my women (by 2017, the American Bar Association projects that the majority of law students will be female), you’d think by training alone, women would be accelerating their relative earnings. But it’s simply not happening. In fact, the more women enter a chosen field, the lower the pay for that entire arena!
A new study from researchers at Cornell University found that the difference between the occupations and industries in which men and women work has recently become the single largest cause of the gender pay gap, accounting for more than half of it. In fact, another study shows, when women enter fields in greater numbers, pay declines — for the very same jobs that more men were doing before.
“Consider the discrepancies in jobs requiring similar education and responsibility, or similar skills, but divided by gender. The median earnings of information technology managers (mostly men) are 27 percent higher than human resources managers (mostly women),according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. At the other end of the wage spectrum, janitors (usually men) earn 22 percent more than maids and housecleaners (usually women).
“Once women start doing a job, ‘It just doesn’t look like it’s as important to the bottom line or requires as much skill,’ said Paula England, a sociology professor at New York University. ‘Gender bias sneaks into those decisions.’” New York Times, March 18th. Simply put, corporate America will pay less money to their workers if they can employ enough qualified employees to do the job. They’re not motivated by a notion of fairness – self-regulation of big business has never worked – and they have a responsibility to their shareholders to maximize profits. So if a group of workers will accept lower pay for the same work, it is an invitation to higher profits that simply cannot be passed up.
“[England] is a co-author of one of the most comprehensive studies of the phenomenon, using United States census data from 1950 to 2000, when the share of women increased in many jobs. The study, which she conducted with Asaf Levanon, of the University of Haifa in Israel, and Paul Allison of the University of Pennsylvania, found that when women moved into occupations in large numbers, those jobs began paying less even after controlling for education, work experience, skills, race and geography.
“And there was substantial evidence that employers placed a lower value on work done by women. ‘It’s not that women are always picking lesser things in terms of skill and importance,’ Ms. England said. ‘It’s just that the employers are deciding to pay it less.’
“A striking example is to be found in the field of recreation — working in parks or leading camps — which went from predominantly male to female from 1950 to 2000. Median hourly wages in this field declined 57 percentage points, accounting for the change in the value of the dollar, according to a complex formula used by Professor Levanon. The job of ticket agent also went from mainly male to female during this period, and wages dropped 43 percentage points.
“The same thing happened when women in large numbers became designers (wages fell 34 percentage points), housekeepers (wages fell 21 percentage points) and biologists (wages fell 18 percentage points). The reverse was true when a job attracted more men. Computer programming, for instance, used to be a relatively menial role done by women. But when male programmers began to outnumber female ones, the job began paying more and gained prestige.
“While the pay gap has been closing, it remains wide. Over all, in fields where men are the majority, the median pay is $962 a week — 21 percent higher than in occupations with a majority of women, according to another new study, published Friday by Third Way, a research group that aims to advance centrist policy ideas… Today, differences in the type of work men and women do account for 51 percent of the pay gap, a larger portion than in 1980, according to definitive new research by Francine D. Blau and Lawrence M. Kahn, economists at Cornell.” NY Times.
So women lose when they enter a field and dominate its demographics, but they also continue to get paid less when they enter jobs even where there are lots of men. “Still, even when women join men in the same fields, the pay gap remains. Men and women are paid differently not just when they do different jobs but also when they do the same work. Research by Claudia Goldin, a Harvard economist, has found that a pay gap persists within occupations. Female physicians, for instance, earn 71 percent of what male physicians earn, and lawyers earn 82 percent.
“It happens across professions: This month, the union that represents Dow Jones journalists announced that its female members working full time at Dow Jones publications made 87 cents for every dollar earned by their full-time male colleagues.” NY Times.
Sure it would help if women entered more male-dominated fields – like engineering – and if the minimum wage rises, it will disproportionately benefit women. But in the end, it is necessary to understand that without a big expensive stick imposed by active government regulation and enforcement, we can expect to see a continuation of glacial change towards wage equality. And as the Congress continues to push for budget cuts in the relevant regulatory agencies, real glaciers are likely to melt faster that gender-based wage equality improves.
I’m Peter Dekom, and unless enough of us care, we can expect a whole lot of “more of the same.”

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